Thunder Road Brewery in Melbourne are one of the more interesting breweries out there, at least from a marketing point of view.
They are doing things different to almost all other craft brewers in the market. Firstly they are well funded, an article in The Age suggests that the capital invested by founder Philip Withers is more than $6 million, they are aggressive, marketing focused and they are have quickly secured a significant presence in the pub scene in Melbourne, things many breweries would kill for.
There are two things that set them apart from the other start-up breweries though. Firstly they are unashamedly going after mainstream drinkers. Withers rightly makes the point that 98% of people do not drink craft beer and to have a viable business they have to convert mainstream drinkers to their product.
This means taking on Lion and (more importantly in the southern markets) CUB. So far so good for craft beer lovers, anyone taking on the big boys should lifted up on the shoulders of craft beer scene and lauded.
But the issue that many people, myself included have is the way that they choose to do it. For those not in the know Thunder Road started with their own brand new brand Full Steam Lager, but since then have gone down a strange path releasing Brunswick Bitter which ‘celebrated’ the long dead beer label, they even wrote ‘Since 1876’ across the label, Then there was Montgomeries Pale Ale ‘Since 1884’ (although that came a went quickly) and their GABS beer was Richmond Pilsener, another long dead brand.
All of these brands existed at some point, almost all of them are trademarks owned/once owned by CUB. Thunder Road’s connection with them is tenuous at best. In fact they are currently in a legal battle with CUB over the use of the above trademarks, as well as others including Brisbane Bitter, Cairns Draught and NQ Lager, which seems very odd given that Withers is quoted as saying ‘These brand represent history, when beer was brewed locally and local is important because it’s all about better quality and greater freshness”. Brisbane Bitter brewed in Melbourne doesn’t feel all that local to me, but that’s beside the point.
Wither’s interest and love of Australian brewing history cannot be faulted but one has to question what right Thunder Road have to be the custodians of this history. From a consumer point of view Thunder Road do nothing more than slap the ‘ye olden days’ label on a modern beer. As I understand it (and as a consumer Thunder Road haven’t communicated otherwise to me) they are not recreating the old recipes and they don’t seem spend any time explaining the history of the beers to consumers.
At best it’s a well intentioned but badly executed attempt to revive some of Australia’s brewing history. At worst it’s a marketing gimmick no better than when CUB re-released Ballarat Bitter and Bulimba Gold Top back in November which didn’t go down too well.
The real question with all of this is why as a brewery you would bother to spend marketing and legal funds reviving beer brands that have been dead for around eighty years, there cannot be a market out their demanding these beers, 100 year old beer drinkers craving a beer they used to drink eighty years ago are hard to find.
A smart marketer would tell them to spend the time and funds building their own brand. They have so much going for them that many other breweries do not. They are a well funded, they make good, consistent product that appeals to the mainstream beer drinker and have excellent distribution. What they need to do is release a range of well branded Thunder Road beers, and then once you have established that and built a reputation for yourself then you have a heritage range and revive the old brands.
Thunder Road’s slogan is ‘We do beer differently’ but in this instance different just seems odd rather than better.